Saturday, 5 April 2014

The People's Poll.

 Harlow is such a beautiful place, it  has a beautiful history dating all the way back about 10,000 years and was famous for its three horses, forty three cattle, seven beehives, a designated sculpture town, and also famously known for having a first residential tower block in the country. 
Today I was invited to participate in an event called;'The Harlow Conversation' which was organised by the  department of Sociology from University of Cambridge. There were about 150 people present in Harlow Study Centre, a good mixture of ages, and from all academic back grounds, to debate issues that affect them at a local and national level.

The meeting was chaired by Dr.Jeff Miley,who is a judge at crown court  with two experts arguing for localism then two arguing against it. Localism means devolving power from central government to local government, and communities. I'm for localism myself because I believe the people who live in Harlow are better placed to make important decisions about the town rather than a bunch of folks in Parliament sitting on endless committees.
We discussed issues such as Education, Pay Day loan companies, Housing and Hospitals. I was shocked to learn that 26% of people in Harlow have no qualifications so who is to blame for this? Should school curriculum's be set by schools themselves instead of by Central Government, and if so, to what extent? To me, Education is VERY important. In Kenya, parents have to pay money out of their own pockets to send their children to school and buy books and equipment so they really appreciate education. In this country parents also pay for education through their taxes but it seems to me that education isn't as valued as it should be, and teachers don't seem to get the respect they deserve. I believe the government should spend more on giving teachers the opportunities to teach rather than weighing them down with paperwork and constant interference by OFSTED and observations in schools. I also feel more needs to be done about the lack of discipline in schools, and I speak from personal experience as the parent of a 13 year old boy who has really suffered through this.

The so - called pay day loan companies are, in my opinion, leeches that are sucking dry the most vulnerable people in our community. Harlow Council, I was very surprised to learn, doesn't even know how many of these companies there are in Harlow, and the current government doesn't seem interested in regulating such companies, which is something that makes me angry. After all, the mess this country is in was caused by greedy banks and we, the taxpayers, had to bail them out. They should be forced to give people decent loans and then there would be no business for the leeches. Credit Unions are also a good idea.

We also had a healthy debate on housing and whether green belt land should be used for 'affordable housing'. I want to know what they mean by affordable because a one bedroom flat in one of the new developments in Harlow costs £170,000, and I certainly don't think that is affordable! I think we need to build a lot more council houses so those people on low incomes can have a decent place to live. This would also create more jobs. Having lived in the town since 2000 I have noticed that hundreds of private houses have been built but no thought seems to have been given to all the extra traffic this has created. This is a problem that will only get worse unless something is done about it now. I also didn't know, until this meeting, that the M11 was actually built on the wrong side of our town.

Our local hospital, Princess Alexandra only has 489 beds for a town population of 80,000. Again, this is a potentially serious situation because of all the extra housing that has been built. This government seems to be intent on closing hospitals rather than extending them to provide the service our growing population needs.

I really enjoyed the day and felt empowered by having the opportunity to debate such serious topics. For me, this was a real example of what localism means and I would relish the opportunity to make my voice heard on a more regular basis.
Towards the end of the meeting, I couldn't help the destruction from the whistling wind outside  that reminded me of the film 'whistle down the wind'.

As we drew to a conclusion, I had so many questions that I needed answering and  I would like you to help me ponder on the following:
1.How does a government know how they are doing?
2.What happens when a community feels they are being ignored the government?
3.What is good governance? Is it a bunch of people at the top who think they know more than the people at a local level?
4.Do you think the person at a local level has enough knowledge and information to make decisions?

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